FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling and dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed over the execution of Fort Smith’s recycling program, calling the evidence presented “merely speculative.”

Jennifer Merriott filed suit in 2017, stating that the city had transported over 7,700 tons of residential recyclable material to a landfill because no recycling facility was available to receive the material, adding that “the City also kept residents unaware that their monthly sanitation fees were paying for the continued and needless use of curbside recycling trucks.”

On August 3, 2022, Judge Stephen Tabor of the Sebastian County Circuit Court ruled in favor of Merriott and the other named plaintiffs and ordered the city to pay damages in the amount of $745,057.85.

“The lack of honesty by the City is at the very center of this case and must be acknowledged,” Tabor wrote in that order. “Citizens should be able to trust the officials overseeing their business to be honest and transparent.”

On March 16, the state Supreme Court reversed that decision and dismissed the suit.

“To meet her burden, Merriott had to show what unjust benefit Fort Smith gained that it must return. Merriott did not introduce any evidence of the unjust value of the benefit Fort Smith received from the Class.”

Supreme Court of Arkansas, Jennifer Merriot et al vs. City of Fort Smith, March 16

The court’s filing also noted that the fee imposed by the city was “fair and reasonable” and that Fort Smith “used the fee for its intended purpose.”

“No evidence showed that Fort Smith profited or otherwise benefited from its actions,” the ruling added. “And because Merriott presented no evidence of Fort Smith’s wrongful gain from the suspension of the recycling operation, the circuit court’s restitution award was clearly erroneous. Therefore, we reverse and dismiss the unjust-enrichment claim.”

Justice Shaw A. Womack added a concurring opinion to the filing.

“Despite the dishonest and misleading actions of the City here, the imposition of the fee at issue was authorized by statute, and the funds collected were used in a manner authorized by law,” he wrote.